Texas Christian Horned Frogs are ranked fourth and are probably headed for the Fiesta Bowl.

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Until now, I’ve had one brush with TCU football, and it wasn’t good.

In 1977 in Fort Worth, I covered Oregon at TCU, still the wildest game I’ve seen in person. Three guys were kicked out after a full-on, midfield brawl. Later, a TCU player came off the sideline (and you thought “12th Man” originated around here) and tackled an Oregon player on his way to a touchdown with an intercepted pass. You can look it up.

Things have changed a bit with the Horned Frogs.

Here they are, fourth-ranked in the polls, fourth-ranked in the BCS. They’re good enough to pose a question: Is it possible, can it be, that we’re going to pick teams for the national-title game and we’re going to get it wrong?

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Barring cataclysm above them, the Frogs are probably bound for the Fiesta Bowl. But a subtle switch has taken place nationally, not only with this BCS outlier but Boise State.

This week, TCU and Boise State are 4-5 in the polls, among the six undefeateds. Last year at the same juncture, unbeaten Utah and Boise were 8-9, with five one-loss teams dead ahead.

That’s progress, I guess.

“I’d love to see it,” says Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, referring to TCU in the BCS title game against either Texas or an SEC team. “I believe they personally match up with anybody in the country.”

Under Gary Patterson, TCU (10-0) has built a speedy team using a template of recruiting high-school running backs and turning them into playmakers, especially on defense. That was the route of their most decorated defender, 6-foot-3, 257-pound end Jerry Hughes.

This year, the Frogs have parlayed that with a potent offense led by junior Andy Dalton, seventh in the nation in quarterback rating (157.8). Talk about balance: They’re fourth in total offense nationally at 467.6 yards a game, and fourth in total defense at 244.9.

“Last spring,” says Patterson, “was the first time our offense gave us [the defense] a lot of problems.”

The Frogs don’t duck a lot of people. In recent years, they’ve played series with Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Stanford. They won at Clemson this year.

Says Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLdraftscout.com, “I don’t know that I necessarily believe they’d be able to handle the two SEC teams [Florida and Alabama]. But I think they’d give Texas a run for their money because of the physicality and speed.”

Rang sees Hughes as a late-first round, early-second player with the potential to move up as a probable rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington projects to play outside, going in about the third round. A year from now, Rang says, Dalton likely would be “among the top 3 to 5 quarterbacks” for the 2011 draft.

Clearly, these guys don’t need any help with tackles off the bench.

Fat City

Mark Mangino has authored a notable turnaround in Kansas football, but he’s in the crosshairs of an internal investigation of allegations that he has been overly abusive, verbally and physically, to players.

Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock postulates an intriguing reason for Mangino’s behavior: He’s too fat. Whitlock, portly himself — he admits that — says the mammoth Mangino weighs between 450 and 500 pounds.

“The weight and stress form a perfect recipe for depression,” wrote Whitlock. “They can put your mind in a very negative place. They can make you moody and volatile …

“At his age [53] and weight, Mangino cannot sustain the necessary energy level to positively influence his players. His team is being engulfed by his negative energy, a dark spirit driven by his excess weight.”

Bowl squeeze

UCLA (5-5) and Arizona State (4-6) meet Saturday in what could be a reversal of last year, when ASU’s victory eliminated the Bruins from bowl contention. Either or both could yet become bowl-eligible, but that might be as far as they get.

Entering the weekend, there are 63 teams with the requisite six victories for eligibility for the 34 bowls, and another 14 with five wins. It appears the ACC could fail to fulfill its bowl contracts for two or three spots, which would be prime territory for, say, a bowl-eligible UCLA team without a Pac-10 deal.

But, in a Revenge-of-the-Nerds scenario, somebody like the Bruins could be victimized by the Sun Belt and Mid-American Conferences. Those two combine to have only four bowl contracts, but together they have six teams with seven wins or more, and Louisiana-Monroe, at 6-4, is likely to join them.

Teams like those spell trouble for any 6-6 outfits lacking a conference bowl contract, because NCAA rules stipulate seven-win teams must be placed before those at 6-6.

The end around

• Ex-Oregon athletic director Bill Moos, 58, says he’s interested in leaving his Spokane-area ranch to become AD at UNLV. There are probably wilder scenarios than Moos going there with Idaho coach Robb Akey, who would replace the fired Mike Sanford.

Jim Harbaugh might be about to sign a new contract with Stanford. But that doesn’t prevent him from listening to offers, including from the NFL, where a lot of people think he’s going to end up eventually.

• Props to San Jose State coach Dick Tomey, who announced this week he was hanging it up at 71, which, among other things, leaves SJSU staffers and ex-Washington coaches Kent Baer and Steve Morton looking for work. Tomey was a straight shooter who had frequently bad offenses and the great Desert Swarm defenses at Arizona. The guy also played in baseball leagues — hardball, not softball — into his 60s.

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